Calcutta, India — Friday, April 22nd

Rich man, poor man

Here's a riddle I remember from the playground of my primary school:

Q: What does a rich man keep and a poor man throw away?
A: Snot!

Gross, yes, but that's just the kind of riddle and/or joke that young schoolboys like: the best jokes were always the ones that made us run up and down squealing "Eeew!" and "Yucck!" in disgusted delight!

Of course, being "civilized," we used to think that hawking and spitting, or expelling snot from your nose while blocking one nostril was gross, but this riddle got us thinking: which is more gross? The poor man who, lacking the accouterments of "civilized" society, hawks and spits into the gutter, or his more affluent counterpart who, with pretensions of civility, blows his nose into his handkerchief and then carries around the soggy nasal mucus in his pocket? "Eeew," indeed!

But why did I start by telling this riddle again? Oh yeah:

I am standing on the balcony of our living quarters overlooking the front gate of our Ashram in Calcutta. In the nat mandir below, the devotees who are attending the noon arati are loudly engaged in kirtan. I am watching the pedestrians in the street below.

The poorer people are generally more devout than their wealthier brethren: when they walk by the gate of the temple, they offer at least a perfunctory obeisance (kind of like making the sign of the cross three times, without the cross) to the deities within.

The rich, on the other hand, ride by (if you can afford a taxi or rickshaw in Calcutta, you're fairly well-to-do) without so much as a glance in this direction.

While I watch, a rickshaw bearing a well-dressed, well-fed passenger rounds the corner, and, hearing the kirtan, the portly gentleman turns his head towards the temple, but, recognizing the "noise," swivels his head away superciliously and clutches his briefcase to his fat stomach as the rickshaw goes over a pothole and carries him away to his ever so important business.

After the noon arati, we all take lunch prasadam in the hall downstairs. As I come out to wash my hands and plate after lunch, I notice an old man sitting patiently on the bench outside, waiting to get a plate of prasadam.

He is obviously down on his luck: he has no shirt or shoes, and his dirty lungi is tattered and torn. But he is very respectful. Whether his obsequiousness is motivated by the expectation of a handout or whether his deference is genuinely devotional, does not matter: he offers his obeisance, kneeling on the floor, to all the sannyasis and senior devotees as they exit the prasadam hall.

Sripad Niskinchan Maharaj tells one of the brahmacharis to get him a plate, and the old man holds the plate of prasadam up to his forehead, thanks Niskinchan Maharaj profusely, and begins eating.

It does not matter whether the hungry old man's humility towards the Vaishnavas and his respect for prasadam is consciously (jnata) or unconsciously (ajnata) performed, because the result is the same: he is acquiring invaluable devotional merit (sukriti).

Meanwhile, the poor, well-fed businessman, with no time for devotion, rushes off to his karma-kanda activities that will eventually swallow him whole (jivo jivasya jivanam)...

So here's another riddle: which one of these gentlemen is rich, and which one is poor?

Calcutta, India — Monday, April 25th

Response to "Soul-searching"

Here are three excerpts from some of the email I received in response to my Soul-searching blog:

"Just a quick note of gratitude and thanks. That post on soul-searching was very inspiring for ___ and myself. I printed it out and read it in the class last night at ___. Your expressions are always so thoughtful, insightful and sincere. We are happy and grateful for your site and its quality postings. Many dandavat pranams from all of us here in ___."

"Always your blogs are life-giving. Somehow the recent 'soul-searching' that I found today seemed even more inconceivably helpful than ever."

"Your blog is really awesome.... Your last few blogs have meant so much to us.... Your style is clear, logical, step-by-step, and humorous. We really look forward to your next blog."

Oh, I get email chastising me too, or challenging my point of view: "Why do you..." and "I don't think you should..." These emails usually end: "I hope you find these points constructive and not critical..." :)

Perhaps this is a good time to remind iMonk readers that a blog is just an online journal. I write primarily for my own edification. I also write to share my travels and experiences with a few close friends and relatives. The views expressed in this online diary are therefore my own. This is not an official web page of the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Math.

Keeping a blog — sharing your thoughts, feelings, and realizations online — leaves you vulnerable. Whenever I post one of my more "preachy" blogs, I spend the next few days in anxiety, waiting to be reproved by the "siddhanta police." It is reassuring to get a positive response from devotees that I trust and respect.

Calcutta, India — Friday, April 29th

What heat?

Have you noticed that I haven't written much about the heat so far? Usually if I am in India during the summer I write about how hot it is because my febrile brain is too enervated to think about much else.

It is actually a lot hotter than normal for this time of the year — according to the news, the average daily temperature in Calcutta this week is a torrid 40°C/104°F — but I have been oblivious to the heat because ever since we returned from Navadwip almost two weeks ago I have been living in one of the rooms that opens onto Srila Gurudeva's air-conditioned veranda...

Regular readers of this iMonk blog will know that I am typically a little reluctant to live so close to Srila Gurudeva, but this time, when we returned to Calcutta, Srila Gurudeva insisted: "Maharaj, if you stay here in this room, that will be good for me."

Well, I don't know about that, but so far it has been good for me: a nice cool room, access to ice in the refrigerator, meals on the air-conditioned veranda with Srila Gurudeva... Don't hate me! :)

Calcutta, India — Saturday, April 30th

Does it get any better?

Okay. Just one more letter in response to my recent blogs (I promise):

Dear iMonk,

I loved the last posting. No... not the soul-searching one... the "snot" one [above]! As soon as I read the first line out loud [What does a rich man keep and a poor man throw away?] both my kids shouted: "Snot!!"

Does it get any better, when you can claim that your kids have a direct mystical connection to the thought process of the iMonk?? No, I don't think so...

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Layout by iMonk — April 30th, 2005.